by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes The Perfection of Truthfulness (sacca-parami) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).
(The opening paragraphs of this Chapter deals with how the Pāli words, ‘Khantī’ and ‘Sacca’ are adopted with some change in the Myanmar language and how Truthfulness is likened in the Myanmar literature to the Morning Star which never deviates from its course. We have left them out of our translation.)
What is to be noted, however, is this: as has been mentioned in the Text, Just as the morning star always goes straight without deviating from its course, so one should speak straight and truthfully, Such a speech alone means truthfulness. Hence the Commentator Buddhaghosa’s explanation of the simile of the morning star.
Two Kinds of Truth
Truth (sacca) is not a separate ultimate principle like wisdom (paññā) or energy (vīriya). It is truthfulness without having a trace of falsehood. It involves such mental concomitants as restraint (virati-cetasika), volition (cetanā-cetasika), etc. As truthfulness varies under different circumstances, truth is basically of two kinds: (1) Conventional Truth (Sammutisacca) and (2) Ultimate Truth (Paramattha-sacca). (Only these two kinds of Truth are taught by the Buddha; there is no such thing as a third truth; there is no truth other than these two in the entire world.)
Conventional Truth (Sammuti-Sacca)
Of these two kinds, the conventional truth is the truth which agrees with what has been named by people. People generally name things according to their shapes. They call a thing of this shape a ‘human’, a thing of that shape a ‘bull’, a thing of another shape a ‘horse’. Again, among humans, one of this shape is called a ‘man’ and one of that shape a ‘woman’. There are, in this way, as many names as there are things.
If you call a thing named ‘man’, a 'man', it is a conventional truth; it is conventionally correct for you to say so. If you call what has been named ‘man’, a ‘bull’, it is not a conventional truth;it is not conventionally correct for you to say so. If you refer to someone, who has been named ‘woman’, as a ‘man’, it is not a conventional truth; it is not conventionally correct for you to say so. In this way, one should differentiate between the two truths.
Ultimate Truth (Paramattha-Sacca)
That which not only has been named by people but which really exists in its ultimate sense is called Ultimate Truth. For example, when it is said, “the thing that knows various sense objects is mind (citta)”, the knowing principle is an Ultimate Truth because it truly exists in its ultimate sense. When it is said, “the thing that changes owing to opposite phenomena, such as heat and cold, etc. is matter (rūpa)”, the changing principle is an Ultimate Truth, because it truly exists in its ultimate sense. In this way, mental concomitants (cetasika) and Nibbāna should also be known as Ultimate Truths, because they also truly exist in their ultimate sense.
Perception (Saññā) and Wisdom (Paññā)
Of the two kinds of truth, the conventional truth is associated with perception; in other words, the conventional truth depends on perception. Recognition of things according to their respective shapes as one has been saying since one’s childhood ‘such a shape is a man’, ‘such a shape is a woman’, ‘such a shape is a bull’, ‘such a shape is a horse’ and so on, is perception. A person seeing through perception will say: “ ‘There exists a human body’, ‘there exists a man’, ‘there exists a woman’, etc.”
The Ultimate Truth is the object of wisdom. In other words, it manifests itself through wisdom. The greater the wisdom, the more discernable the Ultimate Truth. Wisdom makes an analysis of everything and sees its true nature. When it is said “the thing that knows various sense objects in mind”, wisdom investigates whether a knowing principle exists or not and decides that it does. If there were no such thing as knowing, wisdom ponders, there would never be beings; all would have been sheer matter, such as stones, rocks and the like. Material things are far from knowing. But all beings do cognize various sense objects. When wisdom thus ponders, there manifests itself the principle (citta) which knows sense objects.
Therefore, that mind exists, in ultimate sense, is clear to those who think through wisdom; the more they think, the clearer they comprehend. But to those who see things through perception, it will not be clear; it will remain indiscernible. Because, as has been said before, perception is a notion of shapes. When you say there is mind, the perceptionist may ask, “Is the mind round, flat, or square? Is it a powder, a liquid, or a gas?” But you cannot answer that it is round, flat, or square nor can you say that it is a powder, a liquid, or a gas. If you cannot say anything, he may argue that there is no such thing as mind; because if there were such a thing, it must be round, flat or square; it must be a powder, a liquid or a gas. To the perceptionist, who is preoccupied with the idea of concrete forms, mind does not exist simply because it does not assume any concrete form.
Just as the perceptionist cannot see the ultimate truth, so the intellectual cannot see the conventional truth. When the intellectual takes a look at what has been named ‘man’ by the perceptionist, he does so with an analytical mind and makes thirty-two portions of this person, such as hair on the head, hair on the body, fingernails, toenails, etc. “Is hair on the head called man?” “Is hair on the body called man?” The answers to these questions cannot be in the affirmative. In the same way, when a similar question on each of the remaining portions of the human body is asked, the answer will be no every time, If none of these portions can be called ‘man’, the intellectual will say, “Well, there really does not exist such a thing called man.”
Conventional truth appears only when it is seen through perception; but when seen through wisdom, it disappears; so also the Ultimate Truth, which appears when it is seen through wisdom; when seen through perception, it disappears.
In this connection, what is particularly noteworthy is the fact that Nibbāna is an Ultimate Truth. This Ultimate Truth is peace through cessation of all kinds of sorrow and suffering. This peace can be discerned only when it is examined by means of sharp insight but not by means of perception.
The Perceptionist’s View
Nowadays, some people might like to ask: “Are there in Nibbāna palatial buildings? How do those who have passed into Nibbāna enjoy there?” and so on. They ask such questions because of their perception of Nibbāna, which as Ultimate Truth lies in the sphere of wisdom.
To be sure, there are no palatial buildings in Nibbāna nor are there any individuals that pass into Nibbāna. (Those, who have realized peace of Nibbāna with their attainment of arahatship, are no longer subject to rebirth, and their minds and bodies cease to exist when complete demise takes place in their final existence, like a great flame of fire become extinct. Such a cessation is called passing into parinibbāna. No living entity exists in Nibbāna.)
“If that were the case, such thing as Nibbāna would not exist”, the perceptionist would say, “It is, therefore, useless and unnecessary.” In order to encourage him, others would assert: “Nibbāna is a place where beings are immortal, assuming special mental and physical forms and enjoying incomparable luxury in palaces and mansions.” Then only is the perceptionist satisfied immensely because the assertion agrees with what he has preconceived.
If one looks through perception at something and sees the appearance of its concrete form, that is not absolute (paramattha) but merely a conventional designation (paññatti). So also, if one looks through wisdom at something and sees the disappearance of its form, that is not absolute either, but merely a conventional designation too. Only when one looks through wisdom and sees its true nature, then this is absolute. The more one looks thus, the more one sees such reality. Therefore, Nibbāna, which is just Peace, highly unique Absoluteness, should not be sought through perception which tends to grasp form and substance. Instead, it should be examined through wisdom which tends to remove form and substance and delve into their true nature so that Peace, Nibbāna, manifests itself.
Conventional truth and ultimate truth are both acceptable, each in its own context, as has been shown above. Suppose a person takes an oath saying: “I declare that there really exist man and woman. If what I have declared is not correct let misfortune befall me”, and suppose another person also take an oath saying: “I declare that there really do not exist man and woman. If what I have declared is not correct let misfortune befall me”, never will misfortune befall either of them. The reason is: though the two declarations are against each other, both are correct from their respective points of view. The former, correct from the point of view of conventional usage, is conventional truth; the latter, correct from the point of view of ultimate sense, is ultimate truth.
Although Buddhas intend to teach only the nature of absolute reality, they do not exclude the conventional terms from their teaching. Instead they mention them side by side with those of ultimate truth. For instance, even in the First Sermon, though the emphasis is on the two extremes and the Middle Path, it is taught that “The two extremes should not be taken up by a recluse,” in which “recluse” is a mere designation.
Importance of Conventional Designation
When the Buddha teaches Ultimate Truth, He uses conventional designation wherever necessary. He does so not just to make a contrast. For ordinary persons, the conventional truth is as important as the ultimate truth. Had the Buddha taught things only in ultimate terms, those with proper mental attitude will understand that “whatever exists in the world is impermanent, unsatisfactory and unsubstantial,” and they will make efforts to cultivate Vipassanā Meditation, which will directly lead them to Nibbāna.
On the other hand, those with improper mental attitude will hold thus: “It is said that there are only aggregates of mind and matter which are subject to impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and unsubstantiality in this world. There is no self, nor are there other persons. Then there cannot be such things as ‘my wealth, my son, my wife’; nor can there be such things as ‘his wealth, his son, his wife’. One can make use of anything as one desires. Because there is no such thing as ‘he’, there can be no such thing as ‘killing him’, no such thing as ‘stealing his property’, no such thing as ‘doing wrong with his wife’.” Thus will they commit evil according to their wild desires. So upon their death, they will be reborn in woeful states. To prevent this, the Suttanta Desanā Discourses, are delivered embodying conventional terms. The Suttanta teachings thus form effective, preventive measures for beings from falling into the four woeful states.
Besides, the Suttanta teachings lead beings to such happy states as human world, celestial world and Brahmā-world, because the virtues, namely, generosity, morality and tranquillity meditation, which are conducive to rebirth in those states, are most numerously taught in the Suttantas. (For example, to accomplish a meritorious act of generosity, there must be the donor, his volition, the recipient and the object to offer. Of these factors. volition alone is an ultimate reality, but the rest are just designations, exclusion of which makes generosity impossible. The same is true of morality and tranquillity meditation.) Therefore, it should be noted without any doubt that conventional truth leads to happy abodes as has been stated. Exclusion of conventional truth, to say the least, will deter fulfilment of Perfections which are required for Buddhahood.
Although it is true that the Buddha’s Teachings of Suttantas alone would make beings avoid wrongdoings. Since the Buddha Himself has said that there exist ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘mine’, ‘his’, ‘my wife and children’ and ‘his wife and children’, etc. there is danger of beings becoming strongly attached to the wrong notion that there really exist such things and becoming gradually removed from the Path, Fruition and Nibbāna. In order to help them reach the Path, Fruition and Nibbāna, the Buddha had to teach Ultimate Truth as embodied in the Abhidhamma.
Reasons for teaching Two Kinds of Truth
The Suttanta’s teaching of the existence of individuals and things belonging to them is made in agreement with designations which are universally used. But by means of Abhidhamma, the Buddha had to remove their wrong notions saying that there is no such thing as ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘man’, ‘woman’, etc., therefore, because of their conventional terms it should not be grasped that they really exist; all is but impermanent, unsatisfactory and unsubstantial.
In this way, the Buddha explained that there exist ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘man’, ‘woman’, etc. only as mere designations (or as conventional truth), and that these things do not exist in their ultimate sense. Hence the need for Him to teach both kinds of truth.
Natural Truth (Sabhāva Sacca) and Noble Truth (Ariya Sacca)
Ultimate Truth is of two kinds: (a) Natural and (b) Noble. All the four ultimate realities, namely, mind, mental concomitants, matter and Nibbāna, constitute Natural Truth because they are real in their absolute sense.
In the field of mundane affairs, there are both physical happiness (sukha) and mental happiness (somanassa) which constitute Natural Truth. If one is in contact with a pleasant object, because of that touch, there arises happiness in one’s person. None can deny saying: “No, it is not true.” or “No, it is not good to be in contact with a pleasant object.” Nobody can say so because of the fact that one is really happy to be in contact with a desirable body as a sense object (iṭṭhaphotthabbārammaṇa).
Similarly, if one’s mind is in contact with a pleasant mind object, one enjoys mental happiness. Such a feeling is called somanassa-vedanā. This is irrefutable because arising of mental happiness is a reality. Thus, it should be held that both sukha and somanassa exist in mundane affairs.
Noble Truths (Ariya Sacca): The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Ariya Sacca)
In terms of Noble Truth, one does not see either sukha or somanassa in mundane affairs. If one clings to the view that there exist both sukha and somanassa as Natural Truth, one cannot be detached from worldly outlook; one cannot then attain the State of a Noble One (ariya). Therefore, one who aspires to become an ariya should make efforts to see that mental states called sukha and somanassa, in terms of natural truth, are all suffering. These feelings called sukka and somanassa are things which cannot remain without change forever;indeed they are subject to change every second.
Worldlings crave the pleasures of human and divine abodes, wrongly believing them to be a source of happiness and delight. They do so because they do not know such pleasures are transitory and subject to constant change. They are ignorant of the true nature of these pleasures because they have little intelligence but great craving. Such ignorant people will look upon them as enjoyable and delightful before process of decay and deterioration sets in. But it is in their nature to change and when that happens these people become sad much more than they had been happy.
For example, a poor man will become very happy the moment he hears that he has won a lottery prize. Then he starts day dreaming how to spend and enjoy his wealth to make up for his former poverty. While he is building castles in the air, he lost all his money through some misfortune. It may be imagined how much he will be unhappy then. His sorrow at the loss of his wealth will be far greater than his happiness on becoming suddenly rich.
In the field of worldly affairs, everything is associated with both enjoyment and sorrow. The five sense-pleasures are enjoyable to worldlings. But the Buddha says that they are more of suffering than enjoyment. Unlike worldlings, however, the Buddha’s Disciples do not find them enjoyable, much less the Buddha. Yet the Buddha does not say that they are totally devoid of pleasantness; he does say that there is little pleasantness but much sorrow in them.
In any situation, the wise and virtuous always consider first whether there is fault or no fault, but never whether there is pleasantness or unpleasantness. If there is fault, they take no interest in it, even if there is pleasantness. They decide it is undesirable to them. If there is no fault, they take it to be desirable even if pleasantness is absent.
Supposing someone is told that he could rule a country as a sovereign monarch just for one day; but that the next day he would be executed. Then there will be none who dares or desires to rule. From the point of view of a worldling, a Universal Monarch’s life for one day which has never been enjoyed before, may be entirely attractive. But as there is the impending death on the following day which is a great disadvantage, there can be nobody who will enjoy one day’s life of such a Universal Monarch.
In the same way, seeing that everything is perishable, the Noble Ones cannot hold temporary pleasure, which occurs just before it vanishes, as enjoyment. One can become a Noble Person only through contemplation that “there is no such thing as happiness in this world; everything is impermanent; as there is no permanence, there is no happiness; there is but sorrow.”
Only by developing Insight through contemplation that everything in the world is of the nature of suffering, it is possible to become an ariya. The aggregates of phenomena which are the objects of such meditation is called the Noble Truth. In other words, since the Noble Ones meditate on this aggregate of mundane phenomena as they really are, it is called the Noble Truth.
The Insight that, in the cycle of existence which are called the three worlds, there is no enjoyment at all, but only suffering according to the right view held by those who are working for attaining the Noble State and by those who have already attained the same is a truth; it is therefore called the Noble Truth of Suffering.
In short, the five aggregates of clinging (pañca-upādānakkhandha), also named the phenomena of the three mundane planes of existence, are all suffering and that they are nothing but suffering. The pañca-upādānakkhandha are the five aggregates of clinging: the aggregate of matter (rūpa), the aggregate of feelings (vedanā), the aggregate of perceptions (saññā), the aggregate of mental formations (saṅkhāra) and the aggregate of consciousness (viññāṇa), which form objects of attachments as ‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘myself’. These five aggregates are called the Noble Truth of Suffering.
The Noble Truth of The Cause of Suffering (Dukkha Samudaya Ariya Sacca)
The pañca-upādānakkhandha, which form the Noble Truth of Suffering, do not arise by themselves. They have their respective reasons for their arising, the most fundamental and important being craving for sense objects.
In the world, every being is subjected to suffering because he or she is to toil daily for essentials of living. And all this is motivated by craving. The more one craves for good living, the greater one’s suffering is. If one would be satisfied with simple life, living very simply on bare necessities, one’s misery would be alleviated to a corresponding extent. It is clear, therefore, that suffering, wrongly believed to be good living, is caused by craving.
Beings do all kinds of acts for wanting better things, not only for the present life but also for coming existences. When a new birth appears as a result of those acts, the real cause for this new birth is found to be craving that motivates those acts.
Craving is called the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering because it is truly that craving, which is the origin of suffering, upādānakkhandha, in the new birth. In other words, craving is the true cause of the aggregates which form suffering. This Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering (Dukkha Samudaya-Sacca) is also referred to, in short, as Samudaya-Sacca.
The Noble Truth of The Cessation of Suffering (Dukkha Nirodha Ariya Sacca)
Craving called the Truth of the cause of Suffering, like the gum of myaukhnai tree, clings to various mundane sense objects, but, like flies which cannot approach burning iron, it cannot form an attachment to Nibbāna.
The reason for this is that the Ultimate Reality, Nibbāna, the Unconditioned Element, is unattractive from the point of view of craving. To explain, craving rises from feeling, as the Buddha has stated “vedanā paccaya taṇhā” in the doctrine of the Dependent Origination (Paṭicca-Samuppāda), and accordingly craving owes its existence to feeling. But the Unconditioned Nibbāna has nothing to do with feeling (it is not the kind of happiness that is to be felt); it is but peaceful happiness (santi-sukha).
Then the question arises: Totally devoid of sensation, can Nibbāna be likeable and desirable?
If somebody asked like this, he does so because he thinks feeling is real happiness or he does not consider that peaceful happiness is real happiness.
The answer is: There are two kinds of happiness; happiness derived from feeling (vedayita-sukha) and happiness derived from peace (santi-sukha). Here is a simile: Suppose there is a rich man who is fond of food. He expends much to nourish himself with sumptuous delicacies. But a vijjādhara (one who is sustained by magical power) may find the rich man’s food disgusting, let alone finding it appetitive, as he is endowed with the power of living without eating. When asked: “Of these two, who is happier as far as food is concerned?” A man of craving will say the rich man is happier because he enjoys highly sumptuous food whenever he desires while the latter enjoys nothing. They will say so because, being overwhelmed by craving, they believe that feeling which stimulates craving is something to be esteemed.
Men of intelligence, on the other hand, will say that the vijjādhara is happier. The rich man, being a man of dainty palate, must go in quest of elaborate foodstuff. Having acquired them, he is flooded with troubles of making necessary preparations (paṭisaṅkhārana-dukkha) and longing for novelty (āsā-dukkha). To enjoy happiness derived from feeling (vedayita-sukha) is to be burdened with these twin dukkha;there is no escape from them. The vijjadhara has no such dukkha;he lives happily having nothing to do with food. There is no trace of worries in his happiness, which is absolute. Thus, they will say he is happier.
Men of craving say that the rich man is happier because they do not see any of his troubles; what they do see is his enjoyment of food. They have no good impression of the peaceful life of the vijjadhara who need not eat at all. Instead they envy the rich man’s way of living and want to become rich themselves. In the same way craving has no high opinion of and no desire or yearning for santi-sukha (the Unconditioned Nibbāna) which is devoid of feeling and which indeed is peace.
‘Friends, Nibbāna is indeed happiness; Nibbāna is indeed happiness.’ Then the Venerable Udāyi asked: ‘How can Nibbāna be happiness, Friend Sāriputta, if there is no feeling?’ The Venerable Sāriputta replied: ‘Friend Udāyi, Nibbāna’s being devoid of feeling is in itself happiness.’ ”
Worldly people, who lack intelligence, view the five aggregates, the Truth of Suffering, as happiness. Intelligent worldly people and the Noble Ones view the cessation of the five aggregates, like the extinction of great fire, as happiness. A simile, to illustrate the superiority of happiness derived from cessation and extinction for those worldly people of poor intelligence, is as follows: A patient, who is suffering from a chronic, acute flatulence, takes a dose of medicine from a good physician. Consequently, he gets completely cured of his disease. It may be imagined how happy he would be. At that moment, he has no pleasant sensation whatever; what he experiences is simply the extinction of the flatulent trouble. He will certainly be delighted knowing, “Oh, gone is my trouble now!” as his suffering has ceased to trouble him. The flatulent trouble is nothing, when compared with saṃsāric suffering. If one takes delight in extinction of that insignificant trouble, why will he not find happiness in extinction of the great saṃsāric suffering. He will certainly be overjoyed.
Truth of Learning (Pariyatti-sacca) and Truth of Practice (Patipatti-sacca)
The Truths we have so far discussed are those learnt from the Scriptures (Pariyatti-sacca). But what really counts as Perfection of Truthfulness is the Truth of Practice (Patipattisacca) fulfilled by the Noble Ones such as Bodhisattas and others. The Truth of Practice means Truthful Speech or Telling the Truth (vacī-sacca). Fulfilment of such a practice in one’s self is fulfilment of Perfection of Truthfulness. It is the verbal Truth that Bodhisattas and other Noble Persons fulfil in particular.
And this verbal truth is of three kinds:
(1) Saddahāpana-sacca, the verbal truth told so that one may be believed by others;
(2) Icchāpūrana-sacca, the verbal truth told so that one’s wish may be fulfilled; and
(3) Musāviramaṇa-sacca, the verbal truth told so that telling lies may be avoided.
Of these three truths, the way Bodhisattas fulfil Saddahāpana-sacca is mentioned in the Bhisa Jātaka of the Pakinnaka Nipata. The full story of the Bhisa Jātaka may be read in the Jātaka Book. The story in brief is as follows.
Taking of a Corporal Oath
Before the subject-matter of an oath was put into writing as a sacred text, taking of an oath was done verbally and was called “swearing of an oath”. Since written sacred oath came into existence, purely verbal taking of an oath has been replaced by holding the sacred text (or placing it on one’s head); thus taking of a corporal oath by holding a sacred text has come into use. This gives rise in Myanmar parlance to “holding the sacred text” for taking a corporal oath and “administering the corporal oath” for making someone else hold the sacred text. Only the form of taking an oath for oneself, whether it is taken verbally or by holding the sacred text, in order to convince others saying: “What I have said is the truth; if not, such and such a misfortune befall me.”, etc. should be named Saddahāpana-sacca.
An utterance not based on truth, but made just to consign others to destruction is not an oath, but merely a curse. An example may be seen in the following story.
Like the curse in this story, there are curses recorded in the Myanmar inscriptions of old.
For instance, the Nadaungtat Pagoda inscription, dated 537 (M.E.) on the northern side of Cūlāmuni Pagoda of Bagan reads near the end: “He who destroys my work of merit, may the seven generations of his descendants be destroyed. May he suffer in Avīci Hell and may he not be liberated but become rooted there even when Buddhas of successive kappas come and try to save him.” Such a curse is something that is not done by Bodhisattas. In fact, it is a verbal evil called ‘harsh speech’ (pharusa-vācā). In other words, it is the kind of abusive words uttered by mean persons.
(Once the cannibal Porisada, who formerly was King of Bārāṇasī but now living in a forest, made a vow to bathe the trunk of a banyan tree with the blood of a hundred and one kings if his foot that was pierced by an acacia thorn were healed in seven days. The foot was healed and he succeeded in capturing one hundred princes. At the command of the deity of the tree to make the number of captured kings complete, he was to catch King Sutasoma of Kuru. He managed to do so while Sutasoma was returning from Migājina Park and carried him away on his shoulder.) Then, Sutasoma said: “I have to go home for a while. Because, on my way to Migajina Park, I met a Brahmin Nanda, who offered to teach me four verses worth four hundred pieces. I have promised him to learn them on my way back from the Park and asked him to wait. Let me go and learn the verses and keep my promise. After that I will come back to you.”
“You sound like saying: ‘Having been freed from the hands of death, I will come back to death!’ ” replied the man-eater. “I do not believe you.”
Then Sutasoma said: “Friend Porisāda, in the world, death after living a virtuous life is better than a long life full of wickedness, as it is blamed by others. Words uttered not truthfully cannot protect one from rebirth in a woeful state after one’s death. Friend Porisāda, you may rather believe if somebody were to say: ‘The strong winds blew away rocky mountains into the sky’, or ‘The sun and the moon have fallen to earth’, or ‘All rivers flow upstream’, but you never believe if somebody says: ‘Sutasoma tells lies.’ Friend Porisāda, if somebody says: ‘The sky has been split up’, or ‘The Ocean has dried up’, or ‘Mount Meru has been wiped out without a trace’, you may believe it. But never do you believe if somebody says: ‘Sutasoma tells lies.’ ” Still Porisāda was not fully convinced.
As Porisāda remained adamant Mahāsutasoma thought: “This Porisāda still do not believe me. I will make him believe by taking an oath.” So he said: “Friend Porisāda, please put me down from your shoulder. I will convince you by taking an oath.” Porisada then put him down from his shoulder. “Friend Porisāda, I will hold the sword and the spear and take the oath. I will take leave of you for a short time and will fulfil my promise given to Brahmin Nanda to learn the verse from him in the city. Then I will come back to you to keep my promise. If I do not say the truth may I not gain rebirth in a royal family, well protected by weapons such as this sword and this spear.”
Then Porisāda thought: “This King Sutasoma has taken an oath which ordinary kings dare not do. No matter whether he comes back or not, I too am a king. If he does not come back, I will get the blood out of my arm to sacrifice it for the deity of the banyan tree.” Thus thinking Porisāda set Bodhisatta Sutasoma free.)
This verbal truth of King Mahāsutasoma uttered to convince Porisāda is also saddahāpana-sacca. This is the kind of Perfection of Truthfulness which Bodhisattas have to fulfil.
In the Suvannasāma Jātaka, the Bodhisatta Suvannasāma, looking after his blind parents, went to fetch water from a river. King Pīḷiyakkha, who was out hunting, saw him and shot him with an arrow, mistaking him for a supernatural being. Being overcome by the poisonous effect of the arrow, the Bodhisatta became unconscious. King Pīḷiyakkha brought the Bodhisatta’s father and mother to the place where the Bodhisatta remained lying in a dead faint. On their arrival there, his father Dukūla sat down and lifted his head while his mother Pārikā sat down, held his feet placing them on her thigh and cried. They touched their son’s body and feeling the chest which still had body heat, the mother said to herself: “My son has not died yet. He is just unconscious because of the poison. I will remove that poison by my words of solemn truth.”
Accordingly, she made an asseveration comprising seven points:
(2) Formerly, my son Sāma has engaged himself in noble practice. If this be true, may the poison that afflicts my son vanishes.
(3) Formerly, my son Sāma has spoken only truth. If this be true, may the poison that afflicts my son vanishes.
(4) My son Sāma has looked after his parents. If this be true, may the poison that afflicts my son vanishes.
(5) My son Sāma has shown respect to the elders in the family. If this be true, may the poison that afflicts my son vanishes.
(6) I love my son Sāma more than my life. If this be true, may the poison that afflicts my son vanishes.
(7) May my Sāma’s poison disappears by virtue of meritorious deeds done by his father and by me.
Then Suvaṇṇa Sāma who was lying on one side turned over to the other side.
The father too thinking: “My son is still alive, I will also say words of solemn truth, made an asseveration comprising the same seven points as the mother’s.” Then the Bodhisatta changed again his lying position.
At that moment, a goddess, Bahusundari by name, who had been Suvannasāma’s mother in the past seven existences and who was now staying at Gandhamādana Hill, came from the Hill to the spot where Suvannasama was lying and made her own asseveration: “I have long been dwelling at Gandhamādana Hill in the Himalayas. Throughout my life there is none whom I love more than Suvannasama. If this be true, may Sama’s poison vanishes. In my abode at Gandamādana Hill, all the tree are scented ones. If this be true, may Sāma’s poison vanishes.” While the father, the mother and the goddess were thus lamenting, the handsome and youthful Bodhisatta Suvaṇṇasāma quickly sat up.
In this story, the words of truth are uttered by his mother, Parika, father, Dukula and Goddess Bahusandari in order to have their wish of eradicating Suvaṇṇasāma’s poison and getting him well, fulfilled and are, therefore, called Icchāpūraṇa Vacīsacca.
This verbal truth of Suppāraka the Wise is also icchāpūrana-sacca as it was made to have his wish of saving the lives of all fulfilled.
This verbal truth of King Sivi was also icchāpūrana-sacca as it was spoken to have his wish for the restoration of his eyesight fulfilled.
In the Maccha Story of the Varana Vagga of the Ekaka Nipāta, the Bodhisatta, when reborn as a fish, made an asseveration because the water in the pond had dried up as a result of draught and the fish in it were eaten by crows. He declared solemnly: “Although I was born as a fish whose species survives by living upon one another. I have never eaten even a fish of the size of a rice-grain. By virtue of this verbal truth, may there be a great thunderous downpour.” No sooner had he thus declared than there occurred a heavy rain.
Again in the Vaṭṭaka Story of the Kulāvaka Vagga of the Ekaka Nipāta, the Bodhisatta was born into a quail family. When he was still unable to fly or walk, there broke out a great forest fire and both of his parents had fled. “In this world there are such things as the virtues of pure morality, truthfulness and compassion. I have no other recourse to make but an oath of truth.” thinking thus, he uttered: “I have wings, yet I cannot fly. I have legs, yet I cannot walk. My parents have fled. O forest fire, please go passing by me.” The forest fire that went by from a distance of sixteen (pais) became extinct after leaving the young quail unharmed.
In this connection, there is something that calls for clarification. In the aforesaid Suvaṇṇasāma Story and others, asseverations were based on meritoriousness and it is, therefore, appropriate that the respective wishes were fulfilled. But the young quail’s asseveration was not so based. What he said was simply: “I have wings, yet 1 cannot fly; I have legs, yet I cannot walk. My parents have fled.” His asseveration is in fact based on what is not meritorious. Why then had his wish been fulfilled?
The basis of an asseveration is truthfulness whether it is meritorious or not. Even if a speech is connected with meritoriousness but not spoken truthfully, it is not a verbal truth; it has no power, nor does it bear fruits. Truthfulness, which is a truthful speech alone, has power and bears fruits.
Being truthful, the Bodhisatta’s speech amounted to a verbal truth and achieved what was desired. Though it was not a speech of meritoriousness, it was not demeritorious either. Even if a speech is connected with demeritoriousness, but spoken truthfully, it amounts to a verbal truth and achieves what is desired. This is known from the Kaṇha Dīpāyana Story of the Dasaka Nipāta.
(Once, the Bodhisatta Dipāyana together with a friend, after giving away their wealth, became ascetics in the Himalayas. He later came to be known as Kanha Dīpāyana. For more details see the Kanha Dipāyana Jātaka, No. 444.) One day Kanha Dīpāyana was visited by the householder Mandavya, the donor of his dwelling place, his wife and son Yaññadatta. While the parents were being engaged in a conversation with their teacher, Yaññadatta was playing with a top at the end of a walk. The top rolled into the hole of a mound, which was the abode of a snake. When the boy put his hand into the mound to retrieve his top, he was bitten by the snake and fell down suddenly, being overcome by the snake’s poison.
Learning what had happened to their son, they brought and placed him at the feet of Kanha Dīpāyana. When the parents requested him to cure their son of snake bite, he said: “I do not know any remedy for snake bite. But I will try to cure him by declaration of an oath.” Placing his hand on the boy’s head, he uttered: “Being tired of human society, I become an ascetic. But I could live the happy life of an ascetic only for seven days. Since my eighth day as an acetic, I have not been happy up till now for fifty years. I have reluctantly struggled along only with self-restraint. By the power of this truthful saying, may the poison vanish so that the boy survives.” Then the poison drained away from the boy’s chest and seeped into the earth.
Yaññadatta opened his eyes; seeing his parents he called out just once: “Mother, Father,” and went to sleep again writhing. The ascetic said to the father: “I have done my part. You, too, should do yours.” Then the father said: “I have never been pleased whenever ascetics and brahmins visit me. But I have not let this known to anybody else. Instead, I have hidden my feeling. When I give alms, I do it reluctantly. By this truthful saying may the poison vanish so that my little son, Yaññadatta, survives.” The poison remaining above the waist drained away into the earth.
The boy sat up, but he still could not rise. When the father asked the mother to follow suit, she said: “I have something to declare as an oath. But I dare not do it in your presence.” When the father insisted, she obliged saying: “I hate the snake that has bitten my son. I hate the boy’s father as much as I hate the snake. By this truthful saying may the poison vanish so that my son survives.” Then all the poison drained away into the earth and Yaññadatta stood up and played again with his top.
(The basis of the respective asseverations of the ascetic teacher and his two devotees was an unwholesome matter which each had long kept it to himself or herself. How he or she had revealed it boldly saying what was true, As this means truthfulness, their wish was completely fulfilled by its power.)
In this connection, it may be asked: “If the verbal truth, whether it is based on wholesome or unwholesome matter, was fruitful as has been mentioned, can it be similarly efficacious nowadays?”
The answer is: Of the three kinds of truthfulness, musāviramana-sacca, avoidance of telling lies or speaking truthfully in any matter, was something that is always spoken by the virtuous. The ancient persons of virtue who had made asseverations, as mentioned in the texts, had lips which were the domain of truthfulness where musāviramaṇa-sacca dwelt forever. Such a domain was so pure and noble that truthfulness which was born in it was wish-fulfilling. In ancient times when truthfulness prospered and shone forth, an evil thing such as falsehood would quickly result in undesirable punishment; so also truthfulness would result in desirable reward. That falsehood would quickly bring about punishment in those days is known from the Cetīya story of the Atthaka Nipata. (According to this story, King Cetīya knowingly lied, saying one of the two candidates for the post of royal chaplain was senior and the other junior although the reverse was true; in consequence he was swallowed up by the earth.)
But nowadays, adhering to the maxim, ‘no lie, no rhetoric’, people mostly tell lies. Thus, the evil domain of falsehood has been created and truthfulness born in this domain cannot produce beneficial results in a visible manner. Similarly, consequences of falsehood are not conspicuous either.
Other stories which contain fruitful asseverations are as follows:
The Nalapāna Story of the Ekaka Nipāta tells of the reeds which became hollow throughout because of the truthfulness shown by the Bodhisatta, Monkey King.
The Janaka story of the Mahānipāta tells of the escape of Crown Prince Pola Janaka from his bondage of iron chains and from prison because of his words of truth.
The Katthavāhana Story of the Ekaka Nipāta tells of an asseveration made by a mother, chopper of fuel wood. In order to convince the king that he was the father of her child, she threw the child into the sky taking an oath of truth, by which the boy remained sitting cross-legged in the sky.
The Mahāmora story of the Pakinnaka Nipāta tells of the escape of birds from their respective cages because of an oath of truth declared by a Paccekabuddha, who, formerly as a hunter, had caught the Bodhisatta, Peacock King, in a square. On hearing the Dhamma talk of the Bodhisatta, he gained enlightenment and become a Paccekabuddha. (As advised by the Bodhisatta) he made an asseveration thus: “I am now liberated from the bondage of defilements. May all the birds that I have kept in cages at home go free the way I do.” How powerful the asseveration in these stories should be thus understood.
In this way, it should be noted that icchāpūrana-sacca was individually performed also after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha.
When King Korabya and Puṇṇaka the ogre were playing a game of dice, they agreed to bet as follow: should the King lose, Puṇṇaka would take anything from the King except (1) the King’s person, (2) the Chief Queen and (3) the white parasol. Should Puṇṇaka lose on the other hand, the King would take from him the Manomaya Gem and the thoroughbred horse. The King lost the contest and Puṇṇaka asked: “I have won, O King, give me the stakes as agreed.”
As it was a fact that the King had lost, he could not refuse, but allowed Puṇṇaka to take anything he wanted. Puṇṇaka said he would take Vidhura the Minister. Then the King pleaded: “The Minister is my person. He is also my refuge. Therefore, he should not be compared with other treasures of mine, such as gold, silver, etc. He should be compared only with my life. Thus I cannot surrender him.”
Then Puṇṇaka said: “We shall not get anywhere if we are arguing whether he belongs to you or not. Let us go to him and abide by his decision.” The King agreed and they went to the Minister, whom Puṇṇaka asked: “O Minister, as the Minister of the Kurus you are praised even by devas for standing in righteousness. Is it true? Are you King Korabya’s servant? Are you a relative of the King’s and of equal rank? Or are you a relative of the King’s but of higher rank? Is your name Vidhura meaningful (anvattha) or without meaning (rulhī)?”
(The last question means to say like this: In this world there are two kinds of names. The first is rulhi, a name, the meaning of which does not agree with what it represents; instead, it is a name given at random. The other is anvattha, a name, the meaning of which agrees with what it represents. For example, if some ugly person is named Maung Hla (Pretty Boy), it is just a rulhi name because the name does not suit the boy. If some handsome person is named Maung Hla, it is an anvattha name because it goes well with the appearance.
When Puṇṇaka asked whether Vidhura’s name was rulhi or anvattha, he wanted to verify whether the Minister was righteous or not, for the name Vidhura signifies a virtuous person who eradicates evils. Should the Minister not abide by righteousness, his name would then be rulhi, a name given to him with no significance. Should he abide by righteousness, his name would then be anvattha, a name in harmony with his true nature.
Should the Minister not abide by righteousness, his name would then be rulhi, a name given to him with no significance. Should he abide by righteousness, his name would then be anvattha, a name in harmony with his true nature.)
Then the Minister thought to himself: “I can say that I am a relative of the King, or I am of higher rank or I am not at all related to the King. But in this world there is no refuge like truthfulness. I should speak out what is true.”
So he said: “Friend, there are four kinds of servitude in the world:
(1) the servitude of one born of a female slave,
(2) the servitude of one bought by money,
(3) the servitude of one who serves voluntarily, and
(4) the servitude of a prisoner of war.
Of these four servitudes, I am a servant who comes to serve the King voluntarily.” So the Minister answered truthfully.
Such an answer given truthfully without deceit was a speech of truth but not saddahapana-sacca because the speech was made not to convince others; nor was it icchapurana-sacca because it was made not to get one’s wish fulfilled. It was made just to avoid telling lies and therefore was musāviramaṇa-sacca only.
Similarly, in the Suvaṇṇa Sāma Jātaka when King Piliyakkha asked Suvaṇṇa Sāma: “What is your clan? Whose son are you? Tell me the clan to which you and your father belong.” he would have believed if Suvaṇṇa Sama were to say: “I am a deva,” or “a Nāga” or “a Kinnarī” or “of a royal family” or if he were to give any other answer. But he thought he should say nothing but the truth; so he said truthfully: “I am a fisherman’s son.” Suvaṇṇa Sāma’s speech was like Vidhura's: it was not to make others believe nor was it to get his wish fulfilled. In fact, it was a speech made to avoid falsehood and, therefore, was musāviramaṇa-sacca.
In the Bhūridatta Jātaka also, when Nesāda Brahmin approached the (Nāga) Bodhisatta who was observing the precepts, and asked him: “Who are you? Are you a powerful god? Or are you a mighty nāga?” “This man will believe me,” thought the Nāga King, “even if I say I am a divine being. But I ought to tell him the truth.” and told him that he was a powerful nāga. This speech of the Nāga King, like Vidhura’s, was made not to make others believe nor was it to have one’s wish fulfilled. But as it was made to avoid falsehood and to reveal the truth, it was musāviramaṇa-sacca.
What constitutes the sixth of the Ten Perfections is this musāviramaṇa-sacca. Bodhisattas of old always made it a point to cultivate this kind of speech which is an avoidance of falsehood. They fulfilled their Perfection of Truthfulness by speaking truthfully, existence after existence. If they kept silent to avoid having to tell lies and to observe truthfulness, it was not pure verbal truth (vacī-sacca) because there was no speech at all. It was only viratī-sacca, avoidance of falsehood.
Use of The Three Kinds of Truth by Bodhisattas Only when circumstances demand to convince others did Bodhisattas use truth of the first kind, saddahāpana-sacca; otherwise they did not. Similarly, only when they were required to get their wish fulfilled, they made use of the truth of the second kind, icchapuranasacca. As regards the third kind, musāviramaṇa-sacca, they always resorted to it on all occasions. Following their examples, those who are virtuous should speak musāviramaṇasacca and make efforts to cultivate it.
Two Kinds of Truth
The aforesaid truths may be classified under two headings only, namely,
(1) Vacībhedasiddhi Sacca (Truth that accomplishes something the moment one speaks.)
(2) Pacchānurakkhana Sacca (Truth that entails a follow-up after one has spoken.)
As has been mentioned before, the Saddahāpana Sacca of the Bhisa Jātaka, the Icchāpurana Vacisacca of the Suvaṇṇa Sāma, Suppāraka, Sivi, Maccha, Vattaka, Kanhadipāyana, Nalapāna, Sambulā, Temiya, Janaka, Katthavāhana and Mahāmora Jātakas, and the Musāviramaṇa Sacca of the Vidhura, Suvaṇṇa Sāma and Bhūridatta Jātakas produced results as soon as they were individually spoken out. There was nothing more to be performed to achieve results. Therefore, such truths are to be known as Vacībhedasiddhi-sacca.
But Truthfulness shown by King Sutasoma to Porisada in the above-mentioned Mahā Sutasoma Jātaka was different. It was a Saddahapana Sacca spoken to convince Porisada that he would definitely return to him. This promise would be fulfilled when the King did return to the cannibal and only then would his truthfulness be established. For this, he had to make special arrangements to effect his return to the Bodhisatta. This truthfulness of King Sutasoma was therefore of pacchānurakkhana-sacca type.
With reference to King Jayadisa’s truthfulness, here is the story in brief. While King Jayadisa of Uttara Pañcāla City, in the Kingdom of Kapila, was going on a hunting spree, on the way, he met Nanda Brahmin who had come back from Takkasīla and who wished to deliver a discourse.
The King promised him to hear the discourse on his return and went to the forest.
On arrival in the forest, the King and his ministers divided the hunting ground among themselves, each one to his own allocated area to catch deer. But one escaped through the King’s location and the King had to pursue it with all his might. After a long pursuit, he managed to catch the deer; he cut it into two halves and carried them, hanging from a pole on his shoulder. Having taken a rest for a short while under a banyan tree, he stood up to continue his journey. At that moment, the human-ogre who was dwelling at the banyan tree prevented him from going, he said: “You have now become my prey. You must not go.” (A human-ogre is not a real ogre. He was, in fact, the King’s older brother, who, while an infant was caught by an ogress. But she had no heart to eat the baby and brought him up as her own son. So he had an ogre’s mental and physical behaviours. When his foster mother, the ogress, died, he was left alone and lived like an ogre.)
Then King Jayadisa said: “I have an appointment with a brahmin who has come back from Takkasīla. I have promised him to hear his discourse. Let me go and hear it, after which, I will come back and be true to my word.” The human-ogre set him free readily accepting the king’s assurance. (The human-ogre and the king were brothers in reality. Because of their blood relationship, which was not realized by both, the former had some compassion for the latter and let him go.) The King went to hear the brahmin’s discourse and was about to return to the human-ogre. At that moment, his son, Prince Alīnasattu, (the Bodhisatta) pleaded with the King that he should go on behalf of his father. As the son insisted, the father allowed him to go. The King’s word, “I will come back”, had to be kept and made true after it had been spoken; so it was a pacchānurakkana-sacca.
The story of Prince Rāma in brief is: After giving birth to the older son, Rāma, the younger son, Lakkhaṇa and the daughter, Sitā Devi, King Dasaratha’s Chief Queen passed away. The King took a new Queen of whom Prince Bharata was born. The new Queen repeatedly pressed the King to hand over the throne to her own son Bharata. The King summoned his two senior sons and said: “I am worried about you, for you might be in danger because of the new Queen and her son Bharata. The astrologers have told me that I would live twelve more years. So you should stay in a forest for twelve years after which you should come back and take over the kingship.”
Then Prince Rāma promised his father that he would obey him and the two brothers left the city. They were joined by their sister as she refused to be separated from them. In spite of the astrologers' prediction, the King died after nine years because of his worries about his children. Then the ministers, who did not want to have Bharata as their King, went after the royal children. They told them of the King’s death and requested them to return to the city and rule over the people. But Prince Rama said: “I have promised my father to return only after twelve years as my father had ordered. If I return now, I will not be keeping my promise to my father. I do not want to break my word. Therefore, take my brother, Prince Lakkhaṇa, and my sister, Sitā Devi, to make them crown prince and crown princess and you ministers, yourselves rule the country.” Here Prince Rāma had to wait for the end of the time limit so that what he had agreed upon with his father would be substantiated. This too was pacchānurakkhana-sacca.
Truth concerning Time
In order to make an easy distinction between vacībhedasiddhi-sacca and pacchānurakkhana-sacca, there are four kinds of truth according to a brief classification:
(1) Truth concerning the past only.
(2) Truth concerning the past and the present.
(3) Truth concerning the future only.
(4) Truth concerning no particular time.
Of these four, the one concerning the future was pacchānurakkhana-sacca and the remaining three are vacībhedasiddhi-sacca.
Of the truths in the Suvaṇṇasāma Jātaka, the collection of truths uttered by the Bodhisatta’s parents concerned the past, for they said: “Sāma had formerly practised Dhamma; he used to cultivate only noble practices; he used to speak only the truth; he had looked after his parents; he had shown respects to the elders.”
The truth uttered by his parents that “We love Suvaṇṇa Sāma more than our lives” and the truth uttered by the Goddess Bahusundari that “There is none whom I love more than Sāma” were truths which concern no particular time.
In the Vaṭṭaka Jātaka, the utterance, “I have wings, yet I cannot fly; I have legs, yet I cannot walk,” concerned both the past and the present.
In this way, the relationship between the truths and their respective times referred to may be considered and noted.
The Supreme Perfection of Truthfulness
With reference to the Perfection of Truthfulness, the Atthasālini Commentary and the Commentary on the Buddhavaṃsa explain that King Mahāsutasoma’s Perfection of Truthfulness was the Supreme Perfection because, in order to keep his word true, the King went back to Porisāda as promised at the risk of his own life. In this case, the vow was made in the presence of Porisāda but as it was a mere utterance, its purpose had not yet been fulfilled; to fulfil it, the vow still remained to be kept. As he had promised: “I will come back”, he returned even after he had been back in the city of Indapattha. At first, when he promised “I will come back”, his sacrifice of life did not appear imminent. It became so only when he returned to Porisāda from Indapattha. Therefore, in the Commentaries, he is mentioned as “the King who protected his truthfulness, sacrificing his life——jīvitam cajitvā saccam anurakkhantassa” but not as “the king who made an oath at the risk of his life——jīvitam cajitvā saccam bhaṇantassa.”
Thoughts on The Two Kinds of Truth
In this connection, the truthfulness of King Mahā Sutasoma and that of Minister Vidhura are worthy of a comparative study. The minister’s truthfulness was his truthful saying that “I am a servant” as is told in the verse 102 of the Vidhura Jātaka. As soon as he said so, his truthfulness was accomplished. But, when he said that he had nothing to worry about his life, he could not die just being a servant. Therefore, one might say that Vidhura’s truthfulness was inferior to Sutasoma’s.
However, it may be considered that Vidhura was prepared to sacrifice his life, thinking to himself: “That young man may like to do away with me after taking me away. If he does so, I will accept death.” For, as he was wise, he must have kept pondering like this: “This young man asked for me, not to honour me. If he had a desire to honour me, he would have openly told me his purpose and invited me for the same. Now he had not invited me. He won possession of me by gambling and would not set me free.” Besides, though he was a young man, he was an ogre (by birth). Seeing his behaviour, the minister must have noticed that he was a wild tough person. Another thing that should be taken into consideration is this: When Vidhura had (by way of farewell) exhorted the king and his family members, and said: “I have done my job,” the young ogre, Puṇṇaka, replied: “Do not be afraid. Firmly hold on to the tail of my horse. This will be the last time for you to see the world while you are living.” (Verse 196). Vidhura boldly retorted: “I have done no evil that would lead to the woeful states. Why should I be afraid.” From this word of the minister, it is clear that the minister had decided to sacrifice his life.
All this points to the fact that Vidhura’s truthfulness contained some element of taking risk of life and was thus not inferior to Sutasoma’s. It should be concluded that it was, if not superior, of the same class as that of Sutasoma.
The unique feature of this Perfection of Truthfulness in contrast to the previous ones is that it possesses the power to have one’s desire fulfilled because of the truth uttered. In the Sutasoma Jātaka (Verse 62) also it is said: “Of all the tastes which prevail on this earth, the taste of truth is the sweetest.” Therefore, one should exert great efforts in order to enjoy the delicious taste of truth.